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Winter is Coming

The SHSU result has not deterred me. This is a talented, athletic, flexible roster; and it's the deepest of Billy Kennedy's tenure. They don't have to wait for next year.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Another basketball season is upon us.

Sure, the team has been playing for a couple of weeks and already has six games under their belt... but I've always felt A&M basketball doesn't really start until the CFB regular season is over. When the neutrals file out of Kyle and gaze longingly across Wellborn at the Reed-Arena-shaped beacon towering before them, with its unmistakable "tan accented by a kinda different tan but not really" decor. That's when basketball season truly starts.

Well, we're here. It's time. So grab some-over-the-counter meds and ride with me to the land of #SECBasketballFever.

What have I missed?

You've missed an oddly fragmented season. A cupcake beating preceded the Puerto Rico Tip-Off... and the first two games on the island didn't go very well. A rough loss to Dayton was followed by a late surge to beat lowly College of Charleston, but the team received some fantastic news before the Tip-Off consolation final against New Mexico.

Help was on the way.

Danuel House and Tony Trocha were cleared by the NCAA, and both players were available for the game against the Lobos. For the first time in the Billy Kennedy era, the Ags had depth. Healthy depth. An actual full roster of scholarship players ready to roll.

I'd love to say the difference was imminent... but the Ags struggled in mightily in the first half with the new crew. Trocha and House struggled to integrate, and the team had only managed ten points with 5:30 remaining in the first half. Things smoothed out for a while, but the Ags actually never took the lead until there was only 13:44 remaining in the game. And then.... we caught a glimpse of the future.

A&M completely blitzed the Lobos, putting together a 27-12 run that put the game out of reach. But that wasn't what made it unique, as our prior squads were more than capable of periodic hot shooting. Heck, every team does it at one point. No, what made this different was the variety. We had everyone chipping in. Inside, outside, free throws, dunks. The whole bit. And the story didn't really change against New Orleans. We pressed our athletic advantage and never really fell behind, and UNO hung around longer than they should have. But again, the blitz. Everyone started hitting, all at once, and the game was put to bed early in the second half.

Now SHSU... that was a different story. This was the annual Kennedy "piss poor performance against a non-conference patsy" that we have come to expect. It was awful. There's no way around that. However, see if you can pick out the difference between last night and the prior non-conference stinkbombs:

  • 2011: Rice, L 58-65
  • 2012: Southern, L 51-53
  • 2013: North Texas, L 41-61
  • 2014: Sam Houston St, W 66-63
On a day where nothing was working, when everything pointed towards an RPI-crippling loss against the Bearkats... we got it done. We got the W.

What does it all mean?

It means nobody has to be Superman.

Last year before every game against quality opposition, I felt like Caruso, Jamal Jones, and Kourtney Roberson had the exact same thought:

"We cannot win tonight if I do not play well."

With Jones it was an insane scoring load, for Roberson it was "plus defense and rebounding and hey also you absolutely cannot get in foul trouble," and Caruso.... well, he had to make the whole thing work.

But our quality depth gives us traditional basketball roles again.

For example, we're playing Jalen Jones slightly out of position down low, but his presence eases the rebounding load on Roberson. Jones is also slightly more polished on the blocks, which allows Roberson to terrorize the offensive boards. What used to be one role (Roberson trying to handle the heavy load on both ends) is now two.

Now, take a look at our wing play. Last year, we relied on Jamal Jones for shot creation and long-distance shooting, using Davonte Fitzgerald for occasional support (but mostly to run the second unit) and Jordan Green to fill in wherever he could. This year, we have a traditional catch-and-shoot guy (Peyton Allen), a slasher who can also fill it up from deep (Danuel House), and Green and Fitzgerald with an additional year of seasoning. Specialization.

Finally, the point. Robinson hasn't been flawless (and he was honestly pretty poor against SHSU), but he's often been good enough to allow Caruso to float off ball and occasionally catch a breather. I wish we could do more to save his legs, but a couple of incidents have proven this difficult:

  1. New Mexico: This was an innocent moment, one that most people probably missed. But UNM put together a nice mini-run with Caruso on the bench and immediately trapped after a made basket. Allen (freshman), Robinson (freshman), and House (still adjusting) were in the backcourt, and there was a fleeting moment of panic. It wasn't a turnover, but House was trapped on the sideline and had to burn a TO. When things get hectic, we have to have him on the floor to steady the ship.
  2. Sam Houston: This was much bigger. Caruso picked up his second foul early in the first half, and we saw our first taste of extended Aggie Hoops sans Alex (aside from mop-up duty). Folks, it was not pretty. Stagnant movement off-ball, poor execution, and ugly shot selection. Caruso doesn't have to create every offensive opportunity anymore, but he still has to be out there.

What's next?

Quite frankly, the biggest stretch of games in the Kennedy era is next. I have long clamored for an improved non-conference schedule with true road tests, and the program finally delivered.

  • Saturday, December 6th: Home against Arizona St.
  • Tuesday, December 9th: Road game @Baylor
  • Saturday, December 20th: Neutral site game @Kansas St (practically a road game - Kansas City)
When you toss in another home game against a sneaky-good (and Duke busting) Mercer squad, it's clear that we'll learn a lot about this squad in the next month.